Going Undercover with the Colonoscopy Process
No Matter What You Call It, It's Time to Get It Checked.
Colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States of cancers impacting both men and women. But, it doesn’t have to be. The following is a list of ways to prevent the disease:
- Get a colonoscopy
That’s it. Sounds simple doesn’t it? A colonoscopy can find precancerous polyps or abnormal growths in the colon or rectum. Research is underway to find out if changes to your diet or adding certain supplements will help prevent colon cancer. Until that’s determined, the only tried and true way to prevent the disease is the dreaded duff test. We know most people are mum about the bum, but if you’re 50 or older (men or women), it’s time to get serious about scheduling an appointment. Since it is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we’re going to help you get behind the scenes, so you feel confident walking into your doctor’s office.
Click on the words below to walk through the process.
Before the Screening
At the Doctor's Office
Unfortunately, many people say bowel preparation is the worst part of the test. For the doctor to see your insides clearly, your bowels need to be cleaned out as much as possible.
In the three days before your colonoscopy, you'll want to focus on low-fiber foods that move quickly through your digestive track. That means your doctor will push white rice, mashed potatoes and pasta over the usually suggested, healthier items, like brown rice, vegetables and fruits. As the test draws near, you'll switch from solid foods to a liquid diet.
You'll also be required to take a strong laxative to help in the cleansing process. If you are able to choose a day for your exam, pick one that will allow you to be at home the day or evening before the test. That's because, as soon as you take the laxatives, you'll need to be close to a bathroom. They usually kick in fast and can continue to work until the next morning when you go in for your colonoscopy. Don't be afraid to ask for a restroom at the doctor's office. It happens all the time, and the staff is used to it.
Once you’re in the private exam room, you’ll change into a gown. Then, you’ll be given a sedative to help you relax and sleep during the test. You’ll begin the exam lying on your side, usually with your knees drawn up toward your chest.
During the test, small amounts of air will be pumped into the cleaned-out colon to keep the intestine open. The doctor inserts a colonoscope, which is a thin, flexible, hollow, lighted tube that has a camera on the end. That scope is long enough to reach the entire length of your colon. The scope camera will send the live images of your intestine to a TV screen for the doctor to view.
Finding Something During the Test
If the doctor finds a small polyp, it’ll probably be removed during the test, as over time, some polyps could become cancerous.
Your doctor will do a biopsy if he/she sees a large polyp, a tumor or anything else abnormal. To do that, the doctor removes part of the abnormal area and sends it to a lab where a specialist looks at it under a microscope to determine if it carries cancer or pre-cancer cells.
After the Colonoscopy
Doctors will keep a close eye on you as you wake up. Most people feel fine after the colonoscopy, but some report feeling a bit wobbly from the effects of the sedative.
You might experience some gas because of the air pumped into the bowel, but walking around can help relieve any discomfort. Because of the sedatives, you will want someone to drive you home. Since you will feel drowsy, it’s also a good idea to stay home from work following the exam.
After the exam, you might also notice a small amount of blood with your first bowel movement. Call your doctor, if bleeding persists. Generally, your diet can return to normal right away.
Congratulations! The entire test takes about 30 minutes to complete. Your doctor will decide how often you need to repeat the test. It’s usually suggested once every ten years, unless you are at a higher risk. Regular screening is the most reliable way to find cancers in an early stage. According to the American Cancer Society, nine out of ten people whose colon cancer is discovered early will be alive, living a normal life, five years later.
Other Exam Options
While a colonoscopy is the most standard and traditional test, there are other options. A sigmoidoscopy is similar to a colonoscopy, but only looks at the lower part of the colon and rectum. It also uses a thin, flexible, hollow, lighted tube with a video camera on the end. This exam only takes 10 to 20 minutes and doesn’t usually require any medicine for relaxation. However, experts usually suggest people get this test every five years.
There are also tests you can do at home that look for blood in your stool. Doctors say polyps and colorectal cancers can bleed, which is what this type of test works to identify. After collecting the stool sample you will return it to your doctor’s office for testing. However, the American Cancer Society says these types of test may produce false-positive results and must be done more often. You’ll also need to follow up with a colonoscopy, if there’s anything questionable in your sample.
Although most experts generally recommend these three types of tests, there are additional screening options. However, many are newer and you’ll need to check to make sure they’re covered by your insurance.
Time to Take the Next Step
It’s recommended that all men and women begin colorectal cancer screenings at the age of 50. If you have a family history of colon cancer or have Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative colitis, you should begin screenings earlier.
Your primary care provider is there to help you determine when you should begin screenings. UnityPoint Health primary care providers are available to answer questions and to partner with you to make sure you have a healthy future.